Papers of Rev. M.C.F. Morris and Rev. F.O. Morris

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection includes over 100 letters to Rev. Francis Orpen Morris, including six from Professor Alfred Newton (between 1851 and 1870), and seven from Benjamin Fawcett (between 1850 and 1871). As might be expected, most of these letters are on the subject of birds. There are also papers assembled by Morris in connection with his book on Fawcett, with further original letters to F.O. Morris (including from A F Lydon), various loose plates containing engravings by Lydon, and several photographs of Fawcett, F.O. Morris, Lydon, and East Lodge, Driffield. Rev. M.C.F. Morris's papers comprise research notes and letters on the dialect, folk-lore and field names of various places in Yorkshire, possibly in connection with the Victoria County History.

Administrative / Biographical History

Francis Orpen Morris was born on 25 March 1810, the eldest son of Admiral Henry Gage Morris, near Cork, whilst his father was on active service on the Royal Navy's Irish station. His mother, Rebecca, was the youngest daughter of the Rev. Francis Orpen, vicar of Kilgarvan, county Kerry. The family moved to England in 1824, living initially in Worcester, and, from 1826, in Charmouth, Dorset. His interest in natural history began whilst a pupil at Bromsgrove School, when he began to collect birds and insects. He left school in 1828 and, following a year with a private tutor, went up to Worcester College Oxford the following year. He read Classics, obtaining his BA in 1833. However, much of his time as a student was spent in the study of natural history, and one of his part-time tasks included arranging the collection of insects in the Ashmolean Museum.

Having decided to enter the Church, he became curate at Hanging Heaton, near Dewsbury, and was ordained Deacon by the Archbishop of York in August 1834. In January 1835 he married Anne, second daughter of Charles Sanders, of Bromsgrove. They were to have 3 sons and 6 daughters. Eventually, in November 1844, he was given the living of Nafferton near Driffield in East Yorkshire, where he remained vicar for nine years. This relatively small parish of 1400 persons provided him with an annual income of £40. He instigated much repair work on his church before, in 1854, moving to the Rectory of Nunburnholme, near Market Weighton in East Yorkshire, which had a much smaller population (of just 240), but a larger income. He again restored the parish church (under the direction of G. Gilbert Scott), but evidently now had even more time to study, and to look after his large collection of butterflies, moths and birds' eggs.

It was at Nafferton that his reputation as a popular writer on natural history in general and of birds in particular began to grow. His first book had appeared as early as 1834, A guide to an arrangement of British birds. However, his association with Benjamin Fawcett, a local printer, was to have remarkable results, particularly for the study of ornithology. Benjamin Fawcett was one of the finest of the nineteenth century woodblock colour printers. Born in Bridlington in December 1808, he was the son of a ship's master. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed for seven years to William Forth, a Bridlington bookseller and printer. In 1831 he set up in business as a bookseller, bookbinder, music seller, printer and stationer, in Middle Street, Driffield. In 1830 he married Mary Ann Woodmansey, and they had two sons before her death in 1834. In 1848 he married Martha Porter, and they eventually had four daughters and six sons.

Many of his early printing projects were childrens' books published by Webb & Millington of Leeds. His first association with F.O. Morris was in 1844 or 1845, and was to last nearly 50 years. Morris produced the text for books that Fawcett financed and printed, which were usually illustrated by A.F. (Frank) Lydon (1836-1917), who had started as one of Fawcett's apprentices. Unlike the earlier work of Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), printing was in colour. This was initially achieved by hand colouring wood-engraved illustrations, and later by printing in colours from multiple wood blocks. Most of the works were published by Groombridge, of London. Their first great success was A History of British Birds, work on which probably began in 1848. Publication, which took over seven years to complete from June 1850, was undertaken in monthly parts costing one shilling. Each part contained 24 pages of letterpress and 4 hand-coloured plates. The final six volume work contained 358 coloured plates. One thousand copies of the first part were initially produced, but such was the demand that Fawcett quickly had to move into larger premises (East Lodge, Driffield). Birds was quickly followed by A natural history of the nests and eggs of British birds and A history of British butterflies, followed later by A history of British Moths. The last collaboration between Fawcett, Morris and Lydon was The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland. This again ran to six volumes, each with 40 coloured plates, and text by Morris. The firm of Groombridge failed in about 1880, and it appears that neither Fawcett nor Morris made much money from their joint ventures. F.O. Morris died on 10 February 1893 and is buried at Nunburnholme. Fawcett had died three weeks earlier.

Rev. Marmaduke Charles Frederick Morris was born the youngest child of Rev. F.O. Morris in 1844. He was at one point Rector of Nunburnholme, like his father, and also wrote several books including Yorkshire Reminiscences (with others), Nunburnholme: Its History and Antiquities and Yorkshire Folk-Talk with Characteristics of Those who Speak it in the North and East Ridings. Rev. Marmaduke Morris died in 1935.

Conditions Governing Access

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Custodial History

Donated by Canon S.L. Ollard from the library of Rev. M.C.F. Morris, 6 Oct 1937

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Records of the Association for the Protection of Sea Birds [U DSB]

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